Innovative Energy and the Law

Originally appeared in The Connector in September 2017

In part because renewable energy is a growing industry, it is ripe for inventiveness and patentability. New inventions seem to spawn daily in areas such as solar, wind, geothermal, bio-energy, and energy storage. Over each of the last 5 years, over 3500 United States patents have been granted relative to renewable energy.

While many patents are directed to explicit improvement in core technology, such as improvement in solar panels, wind turbine blade design, and battery storage, in many cases types of implementation of renewable energy have also been patented. For example, one may obtain a patent directed to uses of alternate energy for particular functions.

Also, the use of renewables toward select purposes can be the subject of a patent application. A common example is electric or hybrid vehicles, which can use a reduced amount or no fossil fuel. Similarly, designs directed toward mileage improvement have been a common subject of patent applications.

As would be expected, companies such as automotive companies lead the way in such patents but other companies are active in this space as well. It has been reported that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is working on storing energy from renewable sources. And it has been reported that Sony is investigating ways to share battery power wirelessly.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office encourages these types of patents in several ways. While patent applications are generally examined in the order received, the Patent Office rules allow for “advancement out of turn” when a patent application is directed “to the development or conservation of energy resources.” In addition, many such inventions come from emerging corporations and individuals, and certain rules regarding reduced fees can apply as well.